This startup aims to teach women to think differently about money

Tanya Rolfe, co-founder of financial edtech platform, Sophia. (PHOTO: Sophia video screengrab)
Tanya Rolfe, co-founder of financial edtech platform, Sophia. (PHOTO: Sophia video screengrab)

By Lyn Chan

SINGAPORE — Raising money for a start-up comes with challenges, but when you’re a female entrepreneur looking to drum up some cash, the obstacles could be massive stumbling blocks.

Tanya Rolfe, co-founder of financial education platform Sophia, recalled that she was once asked by a potential investor to re-pitch her fund at his home on a Friday evening. Her instincts went into overdrive, and Rolfe said that she would be there with two other colleagues, and eventually, he cancelled.

Another time, she was told at the end of a pitching session that her British accent was overly superior-sounding.

“The gender bias was deep-rooted, and I found this rather sad because it was eye-opening that the issue was not just that we don't have enough women venture capitalists investing into women founders, but that we don't have enough limited partners viewing women venture capitalists as viable investments," Rolfe said in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance Singapore.

Rolfe said the problem starts at the top of the food chain, and just flows down in one predictable way, one that rarely includes women.

"It is my belief that we have to turn inwards to women to help solve this issue and mobilise the capital we already hold to address this issue,” she said, adding women were the answer to the gender-bias problem they were facing in entrepreneurship.

Rolfe’s particular passion in angel investing and venture capital comes through clearly in Sophia, although women hoping to get a leg up on any aspect of financial management are likely to be attracted to the site’s learning products available.

Ultimately, giving women control over their financial futures became Rolfe’s mission, when she launched Sophia in early 2022 with Christine Yu and Nicole Denholder. The platform's learning products are targeting women in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, with plans to roll out to the rest of Asia and beyond this year.

Rolfe, 40, left her job as a corporate legal team manager and moved from London to Singapore. In 2017, she founded the first all-female angel investment group to invest into women-led start-ups. The angel group organically morphed into a venture capital fund.

The mother of two children, aged five and six years, shares more about Sophia.

What is Sophia designed to do?

Sophia aims to provide much-needed financial education for women to increase financial freedom, and increase diversity and inclusion in early-stage investing.

The really powerful message of Sophia is that women hold around a third of the world's wealth already. This money is in our grasp (well, in our bank accounts mostly!) and therefore, if we use that capital in a smart way, we can achieve great things.

Sophia wants to empower, educate and equip women to take control of their finances. From financial basics such as managing a budget or reducing your spending and right through to in-depth cryptocurrency courses, and everything in between.

Sophia believes that education alone is not enough. We can all easily enrol in an e-learning course but after we have completed it, where do we go and with whom? Sophia places significant importance upon our community because we want women to come on a journey together with others who are like-minded.

What are the challenges in getting Asian women to hop on board?

Reprogramming women to view being in control of your finances as empowering and freeing. I think the finance world with its sea of dark suits and jargon galore has successfully turned off so many women for so long. Undoing that is our number one challenge.

This is where Sophia's community comes in because we believe that when we can see others modelling the behaviours we are striving for, then we can emulate that too. It brings experience, expertise, and, most importantly, humility, compassion, empathy, and a touch of humour and lightness, to our content and brand.

Is there a particular segment of women you feel needs help the most urgently at this time?

My experience tells me that nearly all women need some form of financial education.

Women who are highly educated and hold successful corporate careers are often the most in need of some help to get a grasp of their financial basics.

The ladies who have less means are sometimes the ones in the most control of their budget and spending, but perhaps they need some support to make every dollar count.

Some women may say, ‘It’s too late for me. I’ll just carry on the way I am, and hope for the best.’ What’s your response?

It is unlikely to be too late for you — just message us to find out why!

Sadly, I don't think hope is going to cut it, and produce the results needed. It is a bold and brave move to start to learn something new when you are long past formal education age; it is far from easy. However, it is imperative to model financial independence for our children and grandchildren, especially the girls. Start today because fortune favours the bold!

What financial management lessons have impacted you the most?

We often learn the most from mistakes, and I have had my fair share of those. Some would argue that this is a rite of passage, and that we must experience losses to make us better investors. The trick is to start slowly, be conversative, educate yourself as best you can, and do it with others (like a Sophia community, for example)!

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